Here in the Northern hemisphere we’ve had the harvest and giving thanks season, and we’re winding up the shop for somebody else until you drop season.
This hustle bustle holly jolly season is also the darkest time of the year. Winter officially begins after solstice, the longest night with the shortest day. Culture, history and human nature have conjoined to make this dark, cold and sometimes miserable time about giving and reverence: about light on the eve of new beginnings.
Sharing the Light
Christmas is touted as being about many things, along with a potentially myopic idealization of family gatherings and encouragement to spend money on material goods. Idealization sucks. God forbid being alone or poor or sick at Christmas. God save us from darkness and lack of hope.
Hype and concrete reality don’t live well in the same universe, which can make the holiday season seem like there’s not room for the real lives and needs of real people.
Wherever hype doesn’t sync well with real life there is unease, insecurity.
Humans don’t do well with insecurity. Even when we are insecure we’ll deny it, trying to triangulate our positions based on a silver lining, as if we are wired for a cross-cultural multi-denominational qibla-like focal point for hope.
That silver lining’s stubborn and sometimes secret hope is where the commerce, the spiritual and the ritual of “Christmas” giving can meet up to make a real difference, a real celebration with real depth.
Reverence and Relationships
I believe that everyone needs extended family, in some way, probably in many ways. In a cooperative society we contribute to something beyond ourselves as a matter of course. We pay taxes. We keep each other safe by following traffic rules.
Paying taxes isn’t enough to spark up the light of giving in most people’s souls. Crusading for or against them, for a cause, maybe. What makes the difference is a sense of connection or contribution to a value, for one’s self or others or both.
Contributions accumulate. Value is passed.
Personal values, personal causes, personal networks are part of how we live. An interpersonal network or a cause-based contribution can build into becoming extended family.
Accumulating the Goods
Marketing is about getting the word out by connecting to the end user’s needs and wants. To push without sharing light in some way is something like evangelizing for taxes: not enough gist in “taxes” alone to spark up the target audience.
There’s got to be a light.
Maybe it’s light from the expectation of feeling smart for buying a particular car, or of having better cell phone service, or maybe it’s the light of hoping Grandma will like her new Christmas slippers. Really successful advertising cues in on this and connects in some way to the fact that part of the ROI of having a need met comes from ripples not directly connected to commerce. Part of the decision to purchase is a visualization of how life could be.
Giving goes farther than any budget.
Consider: anyone who involved in a publicly available media is sharing light in some way.
Sharing the Light: Taking Note of Nonprofits
I’m winding up this musing with an encouragement to get involved, up close and personal.
Start where you are. Use what you know to make a little joyful noise. Opportunities large and small are out there. Food bloggers all over the world just banded together with Chez Pim’s Menu For Hope to raise over $90,000 for the United Nations World Food Program. On a smaller scale, try simply blogging about someone you admire, or why you love what you do… or you could tag yourself for my tips for nonprofits meme.
Find a food bank. They’re everywhere, all the time, and their needs don’t slow down after Christmas dinner. Besides food and money, they may need time and drivers. While you’re on the phone with the food bank, ask where to take donations of pet food.
Extend your family. Make friends with someone who lives in an extended care center. Though nothing can replace a missing parent or grandparent, there are ways to bring delight into the lives of new aunties and uncles. Go for walks. Go out for coffee. Listen to stories. Learn to knit. Teach someone how to blog.
Adopt a school. Call one up and find out what they need. Guidance counselors sometimes keep a stash of books and whatnot that can be gifts for kids whose parents need some help. In my case (shameless plug) I have a special bond with a school, because my mom is the founder of Louis Braille School. If you want to relive a little Santa magic, have a listen to what happened when local radio came to call.
Spread light. Spread joy.